Blog Tours In The Age Of Social Media

csffbannerWhen a group of us speculative writers started the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, Tumblr and the like did not exist. Blogging itself was fairly new. The concept of a blog tour seemed like the perfect way to create a community of like-minded people willing to talk about the books we wanted to see in bookstores.

When we first approached Donita Paul, *our first author, about touring one of her books, she asked, What is a blog tour? For some time we answered that question fairly regularly, but before long, the concept caught on. Now there are sites dedicated to setting up and running blog tours.

As late as three years ago, however, I had an industry insider note the lack of immediate book sales from a particular tour, then say, “It seems that the main body of people reading the blog tour reviews consisted of other reviewers on the tour.”

At the time I thought that comment was short-sighted. No one other than the blogger knows the traffic his or her site receives unless there’s a visible stats counter. No one else knows how many subscribers are receiving the blog in their email in-box or in a reader. The fact that people who had read the book in question were carrying on an intelligent discussion about it should have been appealing to other visitors. And why would those who had not read the book jump into the conversation? That they were silent doesn’t mean they weren’t listening.

Add to that the marketing idea that a buyer needs to hear about a product X number of times (I think it’s 7) before buying. Here CSFF voluntarily puts the name of these various books out over the Internet for any number of people to get their first nudge, or third, or sixth.

Clearly, I believe blog tours, from the beginning, have helped books sell though their impact may not be immediately felt.

But today we have another whole layer to our blog tours–social media. In the past, if someone wrote a particularly good review, the author might link to it or excerpt it for his blog or website. That may or may not have attracted more readers.

With the growth of social media, however, authors can link to posts on their author Facebook page or Tweet to their followers. In turn, those fans can read and share posts to their social media contacts. So, not only are visitors to my site finding out about the tour reviews and the books we’re featuring, but in essence, the author’s loyal followers are now sharing the reviews with their friends and followers as well. People I don’t know and can’t reach are getting the word.

But the author could do that without the tour, some say. Not really. The author can’t say, Go look at this post, if there is no post to go look at. The tour, operating independently of the author, gives him something to point to.

Interestingly, the tour works best when there is either controversy or positive accord. The books that garner tepid posts won’t stir up a great deal of conversation or receive outside notice. Those that create some passion in the tour participants, however, end up having memorable posts, discussions, and reviews to which the author can point.

In short, blog tours seem to me to be more effective than ever, as long as they do more than regurgitate the back cover copy of the book they are featuring and as long as the book is well written. Somehow, it still comes down to that point, doesn’t it.

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* For the record, CSFF opened in May 2006 by featuring a Christian fiction reviewer’s website, specifically a page he called “Focus on Christian Fantasy.” We highlighted Donita Paul the next month as our first author. If you check out that inaugural post, you’ll see a few names you may recognize as current active tour participants.

Published in: on April 25, 2013 at 5:36 pm  Comments Off on Blog Tours In The Age Of Social Media  
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Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind?

How does one book take off like wildfire and another die like a match in the wind?

On one agent blog today I read about how she and a fellow agent had gone out to celebrate because their client’s book had stayed on the NYT best-seller list for twelve weeks. In fact, sales were rising, and the title had climbed to #2, with a shot at #1 if things continued to progress. The thing that I noticed in particular was how surprised she was that sales were growing, not shrinking.

Another agent today mentioned an article about how short the life of a link is these days. Apparently, if people don’t respond to your Facebook link or Twitter link within the first couple hours, they aren’t going to respond.

Out of sight, out of mind?

On one hand, this doesn’t surprise me because I know my own Twitter and Facebook habits. As a general rule, I’m not visiting my friends’ walls and reading their updates for the last few days or weeks. Instead, I’m reading the most recent updates whenever I pop over to my home page. Same with Twitter.

On the other hand, though, I’ve thought of book sales as a growing thing — the PyroMarketing approach. Mind you, I haven’t read Greg Stielstra’s book.

I do know that a good portion of new releases only stay on bookstore shelves for three months, that another portion of them are routinely returned to the publisher, never having been in the hands of a potential buyer. So I’m not saying naively that a book is bound to grow in sales simply because a writer tells people about it on Facebook or Twitter. And yet, I’ve believed the publishing marketers who say that word of mouth is the best marketing there is. Consequently, it seems sales should start to rise as word begins to spread.

One more thing to consider. A small press publisher tweeted today that book blog tours are largely worthless. Of course it’s a tweet, so no added information as to why this particular person reached this conclusion. You might guess that I have a different opinion, but here’s a professional who doesn’t see the return for the time spent organizing others to post about her books.

Not so long ago, author and friend Mike Duran hosted a discussion about social media and book marketing. It was interesting to see that some thought the online chatter was overrated.

So I come back to that first agent I mentioned, the one who was so excited their client’s book was increasing in sales. Could it be that the Facebook/Twitter model, something equivalent to a person’s fifteen minutes of fame, is the norm for most books — a quick blaze that fires hot for that three-month window, then burns itself out?

Does this happen because our culture is so ready to move on to the Next Big Thing? But if that were the case, then how is it that Harry Potter could remain such a huge commodity for over a decade?

Is the answer in the lack of persistence on the part of the author and publisher? After all, a book that’s been out for three months is about to be eclipsed by the author’s next release. So the efforts and emphasis now are going toward the book that will be, not the one that was.

In this environment, how, then, can a book/author grow an audience?

I’ve thought some about the phenomenon of The Shack because that book seemed to burn brighter and brighter. In relating its success to the factors I wrote about over at Spec Faith on Monday, I’d say it succeeded because it had three of the five elements I identified.

But The Shack had something I’d never seen before — in the back, the author listed action points for a satisfied reader to take to spread the word about the book. Rather than letting the book fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” category, or hoping that the reader would seek out the author online, this plea to spread the word almost became a part of the book.

It was unique and perhaps unrepeatable. And perhaps that’s the thing that will spread the word about books — something that isn’t an imitation of what others are already doing.

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There are still three days left to vote in the “It’s All In The Opening” poll.

Published in: on September 13, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Review Is …

We used to know how to complete that line. The review is in! But today it seems there are other words that are more fitting or more common. The review is non-existent, comes to mind. Or the review is pure promotion. Or the review is dangerous. Or the review is tainted.

You see, I’m aware of a couple on-line “battles” centered on reviews or reviewing. One such controversy questions the objectivity of reviewers who receive free books. Another questions a specific review that doesn’t take a strong “thou-shalt-not” stand to a certain movie.

Of course, there is the fact that writers for some time have been decrying the lack of review publications, especially for Christian fiction. In truth, more and more newspapers are dropping book reviews from their content, so it seems that no review is more commonly the truth for many books.

I suspect this is why blog tours have increased in popularity and why authors encourage readers to post reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The beauty is, these kinds of reviews come from readers. Not professional reviewers who may or may not have the mindset of the target audience.

To be sure, anyone can write a review with wrong motives, even professional reviewers. I suspect that’s why fewer and fewer formal reviews exist—readers have learned not to trust reviewers who have a track record for pushing their own preferences or, in a worst case, foisting a personal agenda on the public.

In contrast, blog tour reviewers and reader reviewers on book-selling sites have nothing to gain by pandering to their own whimsy. People will simply tune them out, and in the case of bloggers, stop visiting their sites, so there’s nothing to gain.

A blogger who cares at all for his visitors is more apt to give a balanced and meaningful review than not. In addition, he is not setting himself up as an expert which eliminates the problems swirling around the other review controversy.

This debate centers on a publication giving the pros and cons of a particular movie rather than posting a “not recommended” warning. I haven’t read the review, seen the movie, or read much of the confrontational posts or comments. I don’t think it’s necessary to be familiar with all the particulars because we’ve seen it all before. “Don’t read Gone with the Wind because it uses a cuss word.” “Don’t read Harry Potter because it has witches.”

These kinds of “reviews” are dealing with externals while ignoring heart issues. What’s more they wish to act as the Authority, to step in and make a declaration about what the true-blue followers should Stay Away From. For Christians, this seems antithetical to our stated belief that the Bible is the authority for life and godliness.

To review or not to review? By all means, Review. Do so with honesty and candor and kindness. If you’re a believer, do so with Scriptural relevance. Then let your review stand as one piece of the public record that may influence those who trust your opinion. But don’t lose sight that your opinion is nothing more than your opinion. It may be informed. It may come from your vast experience. It may be right. But in the end, those who read your reviews still have to decide what to do about what they read.

Going to the Dogs Again

So, now that I got those annoying automated links (to posts completely unrelated to the subject 😮 ) taken from the comment box, I feel it’s safe to use my dog metaphor again. And yes, I am switching back to the promotion topic. Sorry if it’s unsettling to be jumping from one subject to the other. Honestly, this is not usually the way my mind works. I’m usually the blogger who, for example, perseveres and writes a 35-part discussion on theme. But as it turns out, right now I have nothing new to add to the discussion about disappointment with God and I do have a comment or two to bring up about promotion.

If you recall, I used the barking dogs in my neighborhood as examples for how easy it is to tune out repetitive, albeit it insistent, clamor. Dogs yap, yip, and yammer, and I ignore, ignore, ignore. Until a bunch of them all join in together.

Even a united chorus might not move me to action, however. If I hear the bunch near the backyard all barking their usual refrain and I also hear the cheery voices of the school children calling to one another, I know the dogs are reacting to a routine stimulus. I need not investigate. There is nothing out of place or different or worrisome. If anything, I might get up and shut my window, should the barking go on too long.

But there comes a time … in the middle of the night, for example, or when all else is quiet or when the tone of the dogs is different or when there is no apparent reason, that I pay attention to the group uproar. I might get up and turn on the porch light, look out the window, even venture out with a flashlight (probably not!)

I suspect the analogy is clear. One thing that can separate an author’s voice promoting his book from all the other ads, announcements, notices, commercials, infomercials, promotions, endorsements, blurbs, write-ups, posters, leaflets, pamphlets, flyers, fact sheets, circulars, bulletins, brochures, signs, reviews, blog posts, and press releases readers are bombarded with is a united group speaking out about the book.

But notice, if the reason for their speaking out is predictable—alas, like a blog tour—the stir those many voices cause might still be ignored or even dismissed. The united front must come organically, as a result of a real reason, not a manufactured one.

I don’t know if that’s actually possible apart from some sort of media stir which an author doesn’t control. And of course, no media stir happens without a cause. So what will cause a media stir?

I’ll save that question for another time. Let me close with this. A blog tour that mimics organic discussion will be the most useful. Organic discussion, as I’m using the term, is a blogger writing about a book because that’s the topic he/she wishes to discuss. Bloggers participating in a tour should write about whatever they want to discuss during a tour, in order to mimic that kind of organic discussion.

Agree? Disagree? Other thoughts on creating a united front?

Published in: on April 30, 2008 at 11:46 am  Comments (5)  
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